Friday, June 2, 2017


I've experienced my first Shavuot in Israel, or anywhere else. I still don't know what it's about.

Shavuot is one of the big pilgrimage festivals, when people were supposed to go to the Temple. Since the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, and rebuilding it would start World War III, no one is expected to go anymore. But it's still a major holiday.

From what I can tell, Shavuot is about God giving Israel the torah on Mount Sinai. Part of my confusion is because everyone I spoke to had their own interpretation of the holiday. Every other holiday seems to have a long list of laws and rules that they're supposed to follow, while Shavuot is more traditional than scriptural. Most of the day, like a lot of holidays, is about eating and praying.

A unique tradition on Shavuot is to stay awake all night reading the torah. That makes sense, since the holiday is about the torah, but the reason for staying awake all night depends on whom you ask. Some say it's because the Israelis were up all night partying before Moses came down from Mount Sinai. Some say it's because sunrises were especially beautiful at the Temple. The Temple was long gone when I went there, but I know how great all that old Jerusalem stone looks at sunset. The Old City glows gold and orange when the sun goes down. Direct sunlight at sunrise is blocked by the Mount of Olives. At least it is in this century.

Whatever the reason, it's nice to see people out and about after midnight. Jerusalem usually shuts down pretty early. If you like to eat late, Tel Aviv is a better choice.

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